ANCHORAGE, Alaska (PRNewswire) - Defenders of Wildlife today condemned the killing of the first wolves in this year's state aerial gunning program and the state's decision to soon approve numerous additional permits for aerial gunners to track and shoot wolves using aircraft in other areas of the state. As of December 2, permits were issued to 63 pilots and 54 gunners. Last season, the state targeted more than 1400 wolves for removal.
More than 400 wolves have been killed since the Alaska Board of Game resumed the practice of aerial killing, despite the fact Alaskans have twice voted to ban the practice (1996 and 2000) in statewide referenda.
"For the third straight year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is flying blind in its wolf-killing spree," said Karen Deatherage, Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife. Deatherage also questioned the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's reasoning behind the program, and efforts to kill wolves and bears in order to artificially increase moose and caribou populations. "The department has only wild guesses about how many moose there are in these areas, how many can live there without starving to death, or whether private shooters using airplanes to kill wolves will even make a difference in moose numbers. It's not biology -- it's anti-wolf hysteria masquerading as science."
Coupled with legal hunting and trapping, almost 1/3 of Alaska's wolf population could be slaughtered this winter.
Professional biologists have raised serious questions about the state's rationale for the aerial wolf killing program. Last January, 123 biologists from across North America sent a letter to Governor Frank Murkowski, urging him to go back to sound scientific principles for the state's predator programs. In July, the American Society of Mammalogists sent a similar letter.
"These hunter subsidy programs are clearly for the benefit of rich sportsmen", Deatherage said. "More than 80% of the moose killed in some areas is done by non-resident and non-rural trophy hunters."
Alaska is home to the largest remaining population of gray wolves in the United States. State biologists estimate some 7,000 to 9,000 wolves roam the state. But unlike wolves in the lower 48 states, wolves in Alaska are not afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act, and wolf hunting is allowed in ninety-five percent of Alaska.